Uncivil discourse?

“As far as the e-mails are concerned, a lot of those issues are beyond me. I don’t have the ability to allocate funds for our soldiers. If I could, I would.”

— Mayor Terry Bellamy

The Oct. 12 Asheville Tribune
Trib-ulations: The Oct. 12 Asheville Tribune took City Council to task for raising the Army Reserve Center’s rent, sparking some angry e-mails to the mayor.

In the wake of a firestorm touched off by The Asheville Tribune that engulfed Mayor Terry Bellamy‘s office, the Asheville Police Department says it has suspended its investigation of alleged death threats e-mailed to the mayor (see “Unfriendly Fire,” Nov. 1 Xpress).

“We haven’t gotten any additional information from anyone, and the information we have does not rise to the level of charging anyone criminally. It’s not correct to say that the investigation has been dumped. The investigation … is basically inactive, because there is no information for us to act on,” APD spokesman John Dankel told Xpress.

Twenty-one people in six states — many of them military veterans — thrashed Bellamy and others on Council for their Sept. 26 vote to raise the annual rent charged to the U.S. Army Reserve Center in West Asheville from $60,000 to $112,000.

After retired vet Fred English had criticized that decision during Council’s Oct. 24 formal session, citing an Oct. 12 Tribune commentary, Bellamy said the conservative weekly’s piece had been needlessly incendiary and had sparked death threats. Tribune Senior Editor Bill Fishburne, who wrote the commentary, later sent out a mass e-mail urging veterans to protest. But Fishburne, an ex-Green Beret, advised his recipients to send Bellamy and other Council members “polite notes.”

Council’s 6-1 vote, with Carl Mumpower opposed, upset Fishburne and others, who saw it as “war profiteering” at a time when U.S. troops need armor and other vital equipment. In an interview with Xpress, however, Bellamy said Reserve Center officials had accepted the $52,000 increase without rancor.

“They were at the table, they were negotiating, and they didn’t have a problem with it,” she said.

Only a few of the critical e-mails were penned by Asheville residents.

Sticks and stones

Xpress reviewed the 21 questionable e-mails to Bellamy investigated by authorities. Only one or two contain outright threats, and even those are veiled. One angry vet, who identified himself only as J.C., wrote: “Screw the military and the U.S. Government!!!!! Good job Mayor. Come down to Autryville, I’ll see if I can’t help you out. Out into the river that is. I’m retired military, yep, Vietnam vet!! What you and and the counsel [sic] has done is outrageous. Like all other blood suckers, lets see how we can screw our neighbors and get hard money. Congratulations. I hope I never meet you or any of you [sic] cronies.”

The e-mail caused Bellamy to consider canceling her plans to attend a conference near Autryville in eastern North Carolina out of fear for her safety. “But staff has assured me that the individual doesn’t have a record or a history of that type of deviant behavior,” she said.

And while Bellamy said that e-mail had caused her the most concern, she characterized a few others as “quite vicious.” Another one declared: “What goes round, comes round. As a veteran, I promise to never visit your town or spend one cent on any product that comes to [sic] from your town. Shame on you and your communist council. When the enemy comes, and he will, I hope they visit your town in the early times of their ‘doings.’ With no respect for your kind, H.J. Silva.”

Yet another e-mailer wrote: “I wonder if you even have an American flag in your home. Or do you have a flag with a red crescent on it?? You are evil.”

A number of the writers threatened to cancel plans to retire in Asheville or to visit the city, saying they would lobby others to do the same. “Asheville has now become an unacceptable solution to where we will live for the next 40+ years,” wrote recently retired Marine Steve Clayton of Colorado Springs, Colo.

Still others took City Council and Bellamy to task but ended with simple pleas to reconsider the vote. A retired Air Force vet wrote: “What you and your council have done is a disgrace to our men and women in uniform. The U.S. military is the only thing that keeps you safe at night from the radical Muslims that want to take away your freedoms and your life. I would hope you reconsider this issue.”

Bellamy said she’s not ready to accept the premise that the city’s rent increase imperils the nation’s troops. Neither she nor City Council has any control over how the federal government administers its funds, she pointed out.

“My main concern is, if our community feels like we did an improper job of increasing the rent rate, then that’s what we should address,” she said. “As far as the e-mails are concerned, a lot of those issues are beyond me. I don’t have the ability to allocate funds for our soldiers. If I could, I would. My focus as mayor is that if we did something that the community feels is improper, then I think as a Council we should reopen the issue and look at it. As policymakers, if we’re going in the wrong direction, I’m not against going back and looking at what we have done.”

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